Japanese Triple Trown winner Orfevre proved his willfulness and speed during an extraordinary finish to the Hanshin Daishoten, one of the major events in Japan’s racing calendar.
The colt, considered the best racehorse in Japan, had a flawless run and was several lengths ahead of the chasing pack when he suddenly started to pull up and veer away from the rail on the third corner of the second lap.
With less than 1,000 meters to go in the 3,000-meter race on March 18, Orfevre slowed to 11th place out of 12 horses.
Then, almost as if he were a showboating athlete, Orfevre began accelerating back though the field, eventually finishing in second place, a half a length behind the winner Gustave Cry.
Jockey Kenichi Ikezoe, 32, apologized for the incident, but it is not the first time his mount has shown his “playfulness.”
During his debut race in August 2010 and at the Kikuka Sho in October 2011, Orfevre ignored Ikezoe and continued running past the finish line and then threw Ikezoe. His sire, Stay Gold, was also known for its fierce personality.
“I don’t know exactly what happened, but, judging from the video, his body got really stiff and his legs weren’t running correctly right before his mishap,” says Japan Farriers Association board member Ryo Kusunose, 60, who has studied equine behavior at the Japan Racing Association's Equine Research Institute.
Kusunose, author of the book “Thoroughbreds fly, too,” believes that Orfevre thought the race had ended.
In the Hanshin Daishoten, the horses start before the Hanshin Race Course’s second corner, pass the finish line, and then run another lap. Typically, Orfevre runs behind the leaders and wins with a kick at the finish.
On March 18, the pack was running slowly and Orfevre began accelerating around the second corner on the second lap. As he hit the front, he may have thought the race had finished.
Some horses are trained to run with other horses during training. Once they overtake their rivals, their jockeys stop giving instructions to continue running.
“Horses have good memory. Lab tests have proven that they remember things they learned for quite some time,” says Kusunose.
For example, in one experiment, horses that had never raced at one course did not respond to a recording of a fanfare. However, horses that had raced there showed signs of excitement, apparently indicating that they remembered the excitement of the race associated with those sounds.
It is certainly not unprecedented for horses to prefer habit to their jockey’s instructions. Triple crown winner Mr. C.B. reportedly tried to go home every time he came near to the exit to his training ground.
Horses are quite intelligent animals. Based on the encephalization quotient (EQ), which is a rough estimate of animal intelligence based on a measure of relative brain size defined as the ratio between actual brain mass and predicted brain mass for an animal of a given size, horses have an average EQ of 0.10. This is not as high as dogs (0.14) or cats (0.12), but is higher than cows (0.06).
Orfevre’s next big race is the Tenno Sho (Spring) on April 29.
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